Fear The Dawn: Chapter 36

High above the purple sea, Karma sat atop his favourite perch, deep in thought.

It had been many nights now since he had infiltrated their gathering, but he had made precious little progress towards finding Line. He realized now that their objective had been very close to his own. Just like the one called Steven, Line was was waiting for some kind of message from Lapse. However, Karma had a strong suspicion that the message would never arrive on its own. He didn't know all the details, but from what he could remember of that conversation it seemed they had had a similar altercation in that world and once again Line had chosen to run away rather than face his problems. He could try to go over there and drag Line back on his own, but he had almost no recollection of his own time in the world of the strangers, and he hadn't been able to convince Line to come back the last time, anyway. No, it seemed like the most sensible course of action was to find Lapse and try to convince her to sort him out.

Unfortunately, that was where the trail went cold. Lapse was lost somewhere in the stranger world, too, and he was no closer to finding her than he was to bringing Line home. At the forefront of his problems was the fact that he barely knew Lapse at all. He could faintly recall what she looked like, she was tall and had scruffy brown fur, but that was of little use. Line had looked completely different as a stranger, he had only recognized him by chance based on something he said. With Lapse, he might well encounter her and not even realize it, losing his chance to save Line forever.
If only that stupid grey one hadn't chased her away!”, he thought angrily, but that was unfair, deep down he knew he was also partially responsible for Lapse's disappearance, and that made him even more frustrated. If she was still around, things would be so much simpler, he could just track her down and then they could bring Line back together. Of course, if he hadn't encouraged Line to be mean to her in the first place, everyone would still be here, even Banshee.

He had no idea at all what had happened to Banshee. Was she in the other world, too? As far as he could tell, it seemed like the gateway to the other world lay in the mornings. He had wound up there after not returning one morning, and from what he had seen from the grey one it seemed like Lapse had disappeared that way, too. Yet Banshee had disappeared during the night, sinking beneath the waves like a stone. What became of her? Had she just sunk to the bottom of the ocean? He knew what happened if you stayed underwater for too long, everyone who lived on the ocean did. She had thrown herself in the water on purpose, to end her life, to get away from him. That upset him even more than what had happened to Line and Lapse, so he tried to avoid thinking about it too much. He had to focus on the things he could do for now.

He turned his thoughts back to the others. Since that night, they had all gone their separate ways, and there had not been another such gathering. At one point, three of them seemed to get together for a night or so, but after that they had parted again. None of them had tried to come after him, either. If they were looking for Lapse, as the orange one had said, they didn't seem to be using the same approach. “They're probably not looking for her at all”, he thought. The grey one had seemed upset by her disappearance, but they had all put the needs of some stranger before one of their own. He didn't think he could rely on them to help.

Karma watched the waves for a little while longer, but still the answers eluded him. It was still a while until morning, and he found he was beginning to grow restless, so he dropped down from the sail to check the signals just to pass the time. He tied his rope to his waist and walked down the side of the ship into the water.
To his great surprise, one of the ships actually appeared to be quite close this morning. It was probably just a coincidence, but he didn't have anything else to do until the sun came up, so he decided to take a look, anyway. He hoisted himself out of the water, walked to the helm of his ship, and slowly began to turn the ship about.

It didn't take long for him to catch sight of the other ship. It was a very large vessel, definitely bigger than the others, and the grey-furred one who had been Lapse's friend was at the helm. “This might be useful after all”, he thought. Even if the they had no intention to search for Lapse, he might still be able to gather some more information about her. He started to pull off to the side to reach a safe observation point, but the other ship corrected its course to stay right in line with him.
Perhaps they are up to something after all”, he thought, stroking the fur on his chin. He pulled the ship all the way around so he was sailing away from the larger ship, though it was still gaining on him. Karma himself went to the back of the ship and examined the other ship's captain through his spyglass.
So, grey-fur, what demons lie in your mind, and will they lead us to Lapse?”
He put his spyglass down as the sun began to rise in the sky.

The light caught Karma's eye and he was blinded for a second, but when he opened his eyes he was surprised to find himself still on his ship, with the other ship still in close pursuit. The sun was still rising in the distance, and almost the entire sea was lit up now, in the same light blue colour that it had in the world of the strangers. He was sure they would be taken away any moment now, but still the other ship continued to draw closer. He glanced at the light again, unable to believe what was happening. He had never seen the sun so clearly in this world.

As if things weren't strange enough, a moment later he caught a glimpse of another ship approaching his pursuer from the starboard side. He quickly retrieved his spyglass, and another one began to approach from the port side, as well!
That's impossible”, he thought, watching the other ships close in. “The other signals were nowhere near here. They couldn't have got here this fast.”
There was another one approaching the other ship from the back, too. They were moving to block the ship from reaching him, in another moment, the big ship came to a halt and Karma's ship began to pull away. He raised his sails to slow down the ship and continued to monitor the situation through the spyglass. Several others had come aboard the big ship now.
What were you thinking, Pack?”
Going after the Black Ship alone? How stupid.”
He could hear their voices clearly, even from this distance.
I can't believe it, Pack. I thought you had it all figured out, but you don't. You don't understand anything”. That voice was the same one who had spoken at their meeting.
I get it now”, Karma thought. “It's just like what happened to the orange-furred one. The others aren't really here, they're manifestations of the grey one's fears. We must be in the other world after all.” He looked down at his paws. He still had his original form, but somehow, this had to be the other world. He didn't understand how that could be possible, but that wasn't important now. The grey-furred one whom he deduced must be Pack said something to them, but he couldn't hear what it was from here. “I've got get over there”, he thought, “this must be important.”

Without stopping to think about it, he dove off the deck of his ship into the water and started swimming towards the big ship. Even in the water, he could still hear them taunting him, mocking his efforts to find the Black Ship. Karma swam between the two ships that had cut off his path and came up alongside the big ship, where he found the ladder and climbed up. By now, they had thoroughly browbeaten the grey one they called Pack and had formed a circle around him, laughing cruelly as he curled up in a ball to try to hide from their insults. He was surprised to find how angry it made him to see them all ganging up on him, and he had to remind himself that it wasn't real to prevent himself from striking them down.
What is the point of all this?”, he wondered. “What is it that he's afraid of? Why would they care if he tried to come after me?”.
The laughing grew louder and louder. It was starting to get to Karma, too, he felt like they were laughing at him for not being able to figure it all out. He had been struggling to put these things together, skulking about and spying on the others, but the fact remained that Line was out there somewhere and he had no idea how to bring him back.
I've been working hard!”, he insisted, but the laughing drowned him out. He tried to cover his ears, then he caught sight of something that really shocked him. It was Lace, the woman he had spoken to at the party, laughing along with the rest of them. “Stop that!”, he said, grabbing her with his arms and turning her around. “You're not like that!”
What would you know?”, she laughed. “You can't stand me.”
That's not true”, he insisted. She was laughing at him now, and he couldn't take it.
Of course it is. I asked you if you liked me, and you didn't answer.”
I was embarrassed”, he admitted. “I'm not exactly used to having people be nice to me. But you helped and trusted me, and I appreciate it. I do like you.”
She stopped laughing and smiled, a wonderful, kind smile. He noticed that he was still holding on to her by the arms and his first instinct was to let go of her, but he forced himself not to. Friendship was nothing to be afraid of. Line had been his friend, too, and if he had realized it sooner, maybe things would be very different now. He gingerly put his arms around her and she returned the embrace, which filled him with a warm feeling despite his reservations.
Go and help him, Black Ship Captain. He's embarrassed, too.” As soon as she had finished speaking, she started to fade away, and in a moment he was left holding nothing.

He understood now. Pack's goal had nothing to do with finding him or his ship, he only wanted to find Lapse. The orange-furred one must have told him that he helped them find Steven, but for some reason, Pack was terribly afraid about what the others would think. He didn't understand why, but he knew that he needed to get over it if they were ever going to find Lapse.
Who is it who matters most to you?”, Karma asked, in a loud voice, trying to cut through the laughter. “Her, or you?”
Her, of course!”, he replied. Karma could hear him clearly, even though he was still curled up into a ball.
I wonder”, he replied, looking around at all the people gathered here. “Are you really sure of that?”
It's true!”, he protested. “I would do anything! I would... I was...”. He trailed off, and the laughing gradually died out. The silence continued for a few moments before he finally dared to speak again.
...On that night, I chose myself. I was more concerned with how other people saw me than being there for her. But every night since then I've regretted it. Not a night has gone by where I haven't thought about the laughter and the companionship and the warmth of her arms that I should have had. And even worse, I know that she's out there somewhere, frightened, lonely, and alone, and it's all my fault. That's why I have to find her and bring her back. It doesn't matter what people think of me. She always cared for me, and that's enough.”

Karma looked out across the ocean. The sun had started to set now, and the man's tormentors and their ships had vanished along with his denial of his true feelings. Karma was surprised at just how similar Pack's situation had been to his own, he had never thought that anyone might be able to relate to him. Lace had been right, though, or something within him had been, as it seemed that she had never really been there. Pack needed to admit the truth to himself, and it seemed he finally understood. “For your sake, I hope that's true”, Karma said, and he began to walk back to his ship.
Wait!”, the man called to him. “Do you know where to find Lapse?”
If only he knew. “I can do nothing more for you”, he said, turning back to face the grey-furred man, who had risen to his knees. “You have met your darkness. Perhaps that will help you. Perhaps not.”
Now what should I do?”, Pack asked.
Karma turned away and looked down at his feet. “If I knew that, things would be very different”. He hopped off the ship and into the water, and swam back towards his own ship. Karma turned back to look at the large ship and found that it had gone. When he checked the signals the next night, he found that it had already travelled quite some distance away.
We have a chance now”, he thought. He knew what had happened to Lapse now. It was so much like what had happened to Line, and he realized now that it was the grey-furred one who had to find her and bring her back. All he could do was push him in the right direction.
I just hope he can do the right thing when the time comes”, he thought, reflecting on his own past mistakes.

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